They may have bowed out of semi-finals contention quite a number of weeks back, but the South Coast Wolves and Central Coast Mariners Academy put on an entertaining display in front of a huge crowd to share the spoils with a 2-2 draw.
Playing a rare home Sunday afternoon game, the South Coast faithful turned out in droves to cheer on their beloved Wolves in glorious conditions at a sun-drenched Hooka Creek Park in Berkeley Vale just south of central Wollongong to easily record their best home ground crowd numbers of the season.
Heading into the final round of the season proper, the Wolves sat in last place on the Championship ladder – a precarious nine points in arrears of the Central Coast-based side – as they both looked to desperately avoid the relegation zone.
By the time the First Grade sides took to the pitch that deficit had been completely eradicated courtesy of victories to the Wolves in both the 18s (2-1) and 20s (4-1), with both clubs all locked up on 146 Championship points.
After a total of 65 matches (22 in the 18s, 22 in the 20s and 21 in First Grade) the battle to ensure a starting spot in the IGA National Premier League NSW Mens 1 Championship for next year would come down to the 66th and final game of the season for both clubs, and it couldn’t have been scripted better for the home side when they opened their scoring account in just the 8’ minute after a mistake by the Mariners Academy coming out of their own end.
The Wolves Peter Simonoski became an instant hero when he pounced on a loose ball poorly controlled by Mariners Academy defender Ridge Mapu in his own area. Simonoski sprang from the left side of the box and fired off a neat curling ball that tucked just inside the right post, despite the outstretched hand of keeper David Bradasevic, to give the Wolves an early one goal advantage.
Steve Hayes, whose mid-season signing breathed life into the Wolves, showed his class and ticker in the 19’ minute after a Jacob Timpano through-ball looked to be headed for a goal-kick, before the energetic Hayes showed determination to get to the ball and cut it back for Simonoski to cross from the left for the dangerous Ricky Zucco. The Wolves striker rose high and came close to providing his side with a further buffer, but the challenge on the keeper was deemed a foul much to the despair of Zucco.
The opening 20’ minutes belonged to the home side, but the next 20 certainly fell the way of the visitors as they bagged two goals in the space of 8’ minutes to steal the lead away from the Wolves as quickly as it came.
Momentum quickly turned the way of the Mariners Academy as their ‘go to’ men in Adriano Pellegrino, Chris Payne and Bradley McDonald began to settle into the game to control proceedings.
A flood of possession eventually led to a Pellegrino corner in the 28’ minute and as he has done so often with ease since joining the Mariners Academy, the lively striker delivered the ball on a platter into the opposing goal mouth and had players from both sides jumping in desperation to get a touch on it. The ball did find a head and ricocheted into the back of the Wolves net, and although it was originally claimed by the Mariners Academy’s Matthew Crowell, the goal was deemed to be an own goal off Zucco.
Nonetheless, the visitors were back on level terms and it was only a matter of minutes before the lead would fall their way.
The 36’ minute saw some individual Pellegrino magic after a poor clearance by the Wolves towering centre-back Zac Mackenzie fell to the feet of Payne who smartly passed it back to an awaiting unmarked Pellegrino looming on the front left corner of the Wolves box.
Pellegrino sized up the opportunity and shot off a perfectly executed lob to beat an outstretched Daniel Collison to find the top right corner and watched with delight as the ball fell neatly into the back of the net to provide his side with a 2-1 lead.
The Wolves managed to stem the tide of possession that their opposition had enjoyed for much of the latter part of the first-half and could have leveled the score in the dying minutes of the half after Chris Nathaniel and Steve Hayes combined nicely with Simonoski whose rushed shot in the 43’ minute went sailing over the crossbar to ensure that the visitors maintained their one goal advantage at the break.
It was a nervous looking Wolves outfit who trudged back onto the field to open the second-half, and when a clumsy challenge by Hayes on Pellegrino just outside the box in the 48’ minute could have spelt disaster for the home side had Payne’s rocket-like shot from the set play been on target.
Pellegrino and Payne continued to create havoc early on in the second stanza, and when the latter’s well-weighted shot narrowly missed the right post in the 51’ minute, alarm bells were ringing loud and clear for the home side.
However, momentum can change in the blink of an eye – or in this case a touch of a hand – and it was the hand of luckless Mariners Academy defender Nathan Verity who swung the momentum back into the favour of the Wolves when he was deemed to have touched the ball inside his own box in the 56’ minute.
Zucco made no mistake with the penalty a minute later as he scored his second goal of the day – his first for the Wolves though – to lock the game up at 2-2 with a little over 30 minutes of nail-biting tension remaining.
And nail-biting it was as both sides traded blows throughout the final half hour of their season.
Zucco, Pellegrino, Hayes, Payne and Co. were all in the thick of the action as the ball went end-to-end after raid-upon-raid.
The Wolves could, and probably should, have sealed the game in the 79’ minute when their inspirational captain Jacob Timpano linked up with Zucco who outpaced a would-be defender to unselfishly deliver a perfect ball out to the left where a fast-finishing Simonoski only had the keeper to beat, but skewed it horribly over the bar.
Likewise, the 83’ minute could, and probably should, have given the ascendancy back to the Mariners Academy when a cross from their right side found an unmarked McDonald in the middle whose superb volley shot on target was only denied by the brilliance of Collison who dived at full length to make the save.
The home fans were given one more final scare in the 90’+4’ minute when yet another perfectly delivered Pellegrino corner found the chest of teammate Dean Caletti who did well to angle the ball toward the goal only to again be denied by the well-positioned Collison who ensured that the game ended in a well-deserved draw.
“That was real character building stuff from all of our sides [18s, 20s and Firsts] out there today,” claimed a jubilant South Coast coach Richard Lloyd who was of the understanding that, despite both the Wolves and Mariners Academy finishing level on Championship points.
“The spirit of this club is alive and well and we need to roll forward on that to ensure that we’re not in this same position heading into the final round come this time next year.
“We got there by the skin of our teeth, and we knew that it would come down to this, although I do believe that the game was fairly evenly matched with a number of opportunities for both sides.
“I’ve got to say though Steve Hayes was awesome out there for us today – he truly epitomises the character that you want at your club, he’s a polished performer and I pleaded with him to come to this club and help us out and thankfully he did. I really owe him for coming and hopefully we can have a lot more of him and people like him because that’s what it’s all about.”
An obvious disappointed Mariners Academy coach Mark Jones was gracious in defeat, but felt that the game was there for the taking for his side:
“I thought we had the far better of the game and two mistakes have cost us two goals,” Jones told FNSW shortly after his side’s final game of the season.
“You would like to think that if you score two goals away from home you’re a good chance to win the game, it’s disappointing but that’s how football goes, but I thought Pellegrino was a standout for us today and young Liam O’Dell did well at centre-back as he kept us in the game at times when it was 50/50.”
South Coast Wolves 2 (Peter Simonoski 8’, Ricky Zucco 57’ (pen) )
Central Coast Mariners Academy 2 (Own Goal (Ricky Zucco) 28’, Adriano Pellegrino 36’’)
Sunday August 18th, 2013
Hooka Creek Park, Berkeley Vale
Referee: Kurt Ams
Assistant Referees: Lance Greenshields and Scott Edeling
Fourth Official: Daniel Stack
South Coast Wolves: 1.Daniel Collison; 2.Jack Keating, 3.Matthew Kocic, 4.Sam Chapple, 6.Chris Nathaniel, 8.Steve Hayes, 9.Peter Simonoski, 13.Zac Mackenzie, 14.Mitchell Del Turco (5.Josh Bingham), 17.Ricky Zucco, 26.Jacob Timpano
Substitutes Not Used: 7.Shannon Fielding, 11.John Martinoski, 20.Thomas Hamilton, 21.Dusan Kolonja
Yellow Cards: Ricky Zucco 40’, Steve Hayes 48’, Peter Simonoski 71’
Red Cards: Nil
Central Coast Mariners Academy: 20.David Bradasevic; 2.Matthew Crowell (18.Dean Caletti 76’), 3.Jamie Lobb, 4.Kieron Stallard, 6.Christopher Payne (30.Adam Woodvine 85’), 7.Adriano Pellegrino, 16.Jed Prater, 22.Liam O’Dell, 23.Bradley McDonald, 24.Nathan Verity, 26.Mapu Ridge
Substitutes Not Used: 1.Beyhan Irmako, 8.Daniel Bragg, 34.Daniel McFarlane
Yellow Cards: Nil
Red Cards: Nil
-By Gary McDonald